The Secrets to Beating Jet Lag

Updated 11/29/19

While traveling to far-flung destinations and exploring the world's cultural hot spots are always on our must-do list, there's one thing we dread every time: jet lag. That out-of-body experience and groggy post-flight haze combined with an unknown territory (and sometimes a foreign language, too) can be incredibly overwhelming and has been known to ruin the first few days of vacation time. You want nothing more than to sleep it off, but obviously this isn't ideal when you only have a one-week vacation.

So how do you shake it off and shorten the time it takes to get over jet lag? For the answer, we turned to our most trusted travel insiders: our readers. Your combined wanderlust far exceeds our own, and as many of you travel long-distance for work, we knew you'd have a few tips and tricks up your well-manicured sleeves. Here is some of the best and most surprising advice on how to beat jet lag.

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Drink a Ton of Water

Okay, so this one might seem obvious, but it's surprising how much H20 your body craves once you board the plane. And it's not just during the flight that you need it most. According to one travel insider, you need to hydrate before, during, and after if you want to beat the dreaded jet lag.

"A lot of what jet lag is is actually dehydration from not having a normal eating schedule on dry airplanes," says Adrienne Harreveld. So drink constantly on the plane and when you arrive in your destination drink at least 16 ounces immediately."

Our top tip: Drink as much water as you can before the flight, but since you can't take any fluids over 3.4 ounces (100 ml) through security, bring an empty flask, fill it up before you board, and sip away throughout the flight.

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Add Vitamins to Your Water

While there are a million water enhancement products out there. Our readers have spoken, and there are a couple that seem to come up more than others. "I use the generic Emergen-C Immune+ Vitamin C," with zinc and vitamin D added says Maleah Jacobs. She takes packets one hour before, during, and after the flight. If you've tried that with no luck, then here's another supplement our readers swear by: No-Jet-Lag. "It actually helps quite a bit," adds Brooke Herold.

Our top tip: Bring these with you on the plane in dry form and add them to your water bottle. We also swear by Hydralyte on-the-go hydration tablets. They're packed with electrolytes to replace missing minerals, plus they're small and light enough to fit into your purse or carry-on. Or you can bypass water altogether and take some Care/of Quick Sticks. The Extra Batteries formula with vitamin B-12 and caffeine seems ideal for traveling. They melt in your mouth and taste delicious too.  

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Wear Compression Socks

While you probably pack thick socks for the plane already, one reader advises us to switch them out for the compression variety, especially if the flight is over five hours long. "It sounds silly, but when I wear my compression socks that I have for running, it helps with blood circulation and keeps my legs from feeling heavy and sluggish when I land," says Ruth Smith. "In the winter I will wear them when we go for long days of walking and [sightseeing]. It seriously helps with the fatigue and keeps my ankles from swelling."

Our top tip: Pack two pairs so you can change into the second one when you reach your destination. Compression socks help to keep swelling and heavy legs away after long-haul flights.

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Get on the Time Zone of Your Destination

If you're planning a trip across many time zones, we know how disruptive it can be on your sleep and mental state. But one insider has a genius suggestion. "Get onto the time zone you're traveling to during the flight," shares Jordan Feise. "Clocks on your phone are super helpful with this. If it's night there, relax and try to sleep. If it's daytime, try to stay up."

Our top tip: Download the anti-jet lag app Entrain. There are a few out there, but according to NPR, this one has the science to back it up.

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Forget Your Former Time Zone

If you do download the aforementioned app and get on your destination's time zone mid-flight, then it's important you forget about your old one. "Once you're at your destination, never do the 'oh it's such-and-such time at home' comment," advises Cate Pileggi, "or even think about it. I find if I only think about the current time zone, my mind and body adjust more quickly."

Our top tip: Make a pact with the people you're traveling with to live in the moment and not to mention the old time zone. When someone does, they'll have to add $1 to the group drink kitty, or however you'd prefer to incentivize it.

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Clean Up as Soon as You Land

While in-transit tricks are important, this insider says self-care is essential once you disembark. "It's the stuff I do when I arrive that makes a bigger difference for jet lag," says Elise Carlton. "I change my clothes, wash my face, brush my teeth, shower, whatever level of clean I have time for. I bring a hydrating sheet mask (e.g., Too Cool for School, Dr. Jart+, Tatcha) that I use right after travel. I take preventative Advil all day. Depending on where I'm going and how long I'm there, I'll find a grocery store and get a few of my favorite (healthy) snacks just to have familiar food in my orbit."

Our top tip: Packing a well-stocked toiletry bag with shower sheets and all your favorites will make you feel right at home in your hotel room. Take a fragrant bath and pamper yourself.

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Choose a Low-Sodium Meal on Board

Since hydration is key when flying, cutting back on the salt is something this reader swears by. "One thing that is very important for me is I always choose the low-sodium meal," says Mariana Fernandez Mora. "That simple change makes me arrive fresher and without a bloated stomach."

Our top tip: Check your airline to see if it offers low-sodium meals when you book. Some airlines like KLM, Delta, and American offer special menus free of charge.

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Stay Awake Until 9 p.m.

One of the most interesting tips from our readers was the 9 p.m. rule. "No matter where I fly, I stay up at least until 9 p.m. (not getting into bed before then), and no napping is allowed," stressed Lauren Bostrom. "For waking up, I make myself stay asleep or in bed until 7.30 a.m. at the earliest so that from day one I'm adjusted to my new time zone. On planes, I try to sleep the whole time if the place I'm traveling to is five to eight hours ahead of me, and only an hour or two if it's five to eight hours behind. Upon landing, I abide by the 9 o'clock rule, though."

Out top tip: Set your alarm for 9 p.m. to make sure you stay up, put in some hydrating eye drops so you don't look so tired, and try sniffing some citrusy essential oils to keep you alert. When the alarm goes off, you have your cue to sleep!

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Don't Let Inflight Movies Disrupt Your Sleep

We're all familiar with the health implications and impact of smartphones on our sleep. According to our readers, this also applies when traveling on a plane, perhaps even more so. "I've been doing more research on blue light (cell phones, laptops, and electronic screens) and plan to avoid them while flying during the time I should be sleeping," says Effie Thayer. "At least [I] try to give my brain a break."

But not all blue lights are created equal: This one can help you adjust faster when traveling. "The Philips goLITE BLU Energy Light Therapy Lamp is life changing," shares Jenna Teruya. "It's a small portable and rechargeable blue light device and comes with instructions on how to use it in advance of travel, during travel and post-travel depending on which direction you are traveling. It has worked wonders with resetting my clock much faster than anything else I've tried and takes about five to 10 minutes each day. I've also read that light exercise in the morning helps reset your clock faster too."

Our top tip: Movies and long-haul flights go hand in hand—we totally get it. It's a smart move to pack an engrossing book, and some favorite magazines, so when you're cramped up in your seat, you can spend some of the time reading until you drift off to sleep.

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Comfort Is Key

When you know you have a long trip ahead of you, making sure you're cozy and warm is crucial. Start with loose underwear, then add "comfortable clothing, socks, and footwear," says Joan Marentis Kelly. "Dressing in layers is the best way to be prepared for whatever weather conditions you may encounter." Then make sure you have a sleep mask, neck pillow, and a thin airline blanket; consider purchasing yours so you can use it on future trips.

But maintaining comfort isn't just about clothing. "[A] lavender essential oil roller is essential for sleep while the orange one is great for waking," says Kelly. "Move often to avoid stiffness and swelling even if it's just chair yoga when the aisle isn't available. Use eye drops to combat dry tired eyes." Fellow pro traveler Hannah Black Benak uses this soothing mid-flight beauty routine. "I use a vitamin-infused facial spray to keep my skin hydrated in flight," she says. "Also, I pack a blackout sleep mask, blanket, and the TravelRest pillow (a lifesaver). I can never sleep on planes but that pillow has saved me on numerous international flights."

Our top tip: No one wants to roll up to the airport in sweats, so we recommend dressing in your usual stylish clothing for security, along with athletic shoes for the long walk through the terminal. Just make sure to pack a set of comfy clothes for the long haul so you can change on board, and change back once you arrive.

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